I’ve waxed poetic about meals before.
I’ve said before that a dinner was “the best ever”.
I was wrong.
I was invited by the lovely Jackie from I Am A Feeder to join her during the Chicago leg of her “great adventure” for the experience that is dinner at Alinea, the famous restaurant by chef Grant Achatz. I couldn’t say no! I began saving for the meal over two months ago, putting a few dollars away every few days. Before I knew it, the day had arrived.
After work, I picked up my lovely date for the evening, and we drove down to Alinea. All we had was an address, and a vague idea as to what the restaurant looked like. It’s an unmarked building, with a hidden valet placard indicating that it was, indeed, the restaurant we were looking for.
Upon pulling open the steel double doors, I was nearly slack-jawed as we walked down the red-lit, wavy-walled hallway. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen outside of a modern art museum. It was just beginning though. The hallway had a door on the left side, which slid open like an airlock door in Star Trek. We were greeted by a friendly hostess who took our coats, and led us upstairs to one of the many small dining rooms.
We had a brief photo shoot, full of anticipation for the meal to come
After a brief greeting from one of our many servers for the evening and a few questions about dietary restrictions, the dinner experience began. Each course was described by one word and a few ingredients, and were accompanied by instructions on how to eat each one.
We began with edible cocktails.
LEMON: luxardo bitter, luxardo amaro, grapefruit
An icy-cold cocktail, eaten off a pin
APPLE: laird’s apple brandy, grenadine, thyme, served in a poached apple
A tiny poached apple filled with house-made grenadine and brandy
SQUASH: cynar, carpano antica, flor de cana 7 year
A silky-smooth square of squash mousse topped with rum foam
I opted to have a glass of wine with dinner (because, honestly, how couldn’t I) and I was surprised with a champagne cocktail with bitters, honey, and citrus.
And then the adventure continued…
Pillows for each courses’ designated flatware
STEELHEAD ROE: dijon, rutabaga, grapefruit
The smoothest soup of squash, laden with hand-harvested roe, spheres of dijon, licorice, and radish
YUBA: shrimp, miso, togarashi
Fried tofu skin wrapped with shrimp in a rich miso sauce
URCHIN: watercress, vanilla, mint
Sea urchin surrounded by vanilla gelee, topped with mint, pepper, and roe. Bowl contains a watercress soup topped with pepper foam
These flags were brought to the table as a centerpiece, but we were told they’d be interactive later. The curiosity just kept building
BASS: black pepper, coffee, lemon
While all these are shades of white, the variety of flavors was incredible. Coffee cream, lemon spheres, black pepper foam, all atop perfectly cooked bass
The next course came with three elements in one beautiful spherical dish.
Rabbit gelee, sunflower seeds, onion, butternut squash
Squash puree, mushroom, panko-crusted rabbit rillette
A richly-flavored broth, infused with cinnamon, sage, and kept warm with a hot rock
HOT POTATO: cold potato, black truffle, butter
Rich cold potato soup, hot potato sphere, black truffle, parmesan served in a wax cup. The pin was slowly pulled out, the small bites went into the soup, and it was eaten in one shot.
A short wait later, this arrived.
And then this happened:
The “flags” were actually tomato-infused pasta
The pasta was then filled
SHORT RIB: olive, red wine, blackberry
This was topped with the small bits of condiments from the glass plate.
From left top: smoked salt, blackberry, grilled onion, black garlic, pickled turnip, nicsoise olive, and cherry. On the spoon: distilled tobacco gelee, in the middle a ribbon of turnip, and sauce of tomato and cream.
Devoured as a pasta roll-up
HAMACHI: west Indes spices, banana, ginger
Hamachi (yellowtail) with ginger and banana, fried, and served on a bay branch
A lovely red wine arrived to accompany the next course.
CANARD: a la Cussy
A 300-year-old recipe with duck, fois gras, braised cockscomb, wine sauce, and puff pastry topped with crispy duck skin
There’s a course hiding amongst the eucalyptus…
VENISON: cherry, cocoa nib, eucalyptus
The tender meat, sweet cherry, and bitter cocoa nib along with the aroma of the warm eucalyptus leaves made for one perfect bite.
BLACK TRUFFLE: explosion, romaine, parmesan
They warned us to eat this in one bite with our mouths closed. The raviolo burst in my mouth and covered every millimeter with the decadence that is black truffle.
A palate-cleanser made from liquid nitrogen-frozen yuzu juice in a whimsical “snow cone”
SWEET POTATO: cedar, bourbon, pecan
The heated cedar plank added aroma to this perfection of a dish. The puff on top? Cayenne cotton candy. Cinnamon gel, sweet potato mousse, brown sugar… need I say more?
I think this says it all… we decided to call this shot “pure wonder and joy”.
LEMONGRASS: dragonfruit, finger lime, cucumber
This kaleidoscope was eaten in one slurp, which combined the sweet dragonfruit, basil, lemongrass, and cucumber in one perfect mouthful.
BACON: butterscotch, apple, thyme
Salty, sweet, and whimsical, this one made me giggle, until I ate it. Then I was without words.
NUTELLA: bread, banana, chocolate
This dehydrated bite became Nutella upon eating
LYCHEE: jasmine tea
Instead of fruit leather, this was fruit plastic, dusted with powdered sugar.
Our table was then covered in a rubber sheet. Then these small bowls and plates arrived.
There was an idea as to what was to come, but we couldn’t wait to see for ourselves. A chef came over (Chef Achatz came to the table next to ours; we were hoping he’d come to us too) and began to assemble our dessert on the tabletop in front of us.
Purees were painted on, cream was dotted, blueberry nut powder was left in small piles…
Liquid nitrogen-frozen chocolate mousse was brought over and engulfed our table in vapor…
Dehydrated blueberry was added
Was it art or was it food?
It just kept getting better, when the chef sprinkled creme anglaise disks with sugar and bruleéd it
CHOCOLATE: blueberry, honey, peanut
We ate right off the table. Each bite was a mystery as to what we’d be tasting, and each one better than the one before it.
We were on a mission…
To say that this was the meal of my life is an understatement. Each and every course brought a sense of amazement and wonder that I had never experienced in a meal. Both Jackie and I said multiple times that it was like being a little kid and discovering things for the first time. There was no menu when we sat down, so there was no idea what was coming next. There were tastes and textures combined in single bites that I never would’ve thought to combine. I am not exaggerating when I say that each bite was an adventure.
Thank you to Jackie for inviting me to join her for the meal that will go down as the best and most interesting I’ve ever had! I’m sure more words to describe this meal will come to me as time goes on, but as of now, I’m still relatively speechless.
For those who know me, speechless doesn’t happen often.